Generally speaking, we tend to think of our minds and bodies as separate entities and believe that they largely operate independently. Even in medical science this was very much the same belief until recent years, where there is increasingly more scientific proof that whatever affects a person mentally can also impact physical health.
“I just taught a Mind Over Medicine workshop, where I told my students that as crazy as it sounds, some sick people who say they want to be cured do not really want to be cured. Part of them wants to be cured. Of course, the conscious mind wants to be cured, to be free from suffering and symptom free, to have their health span equal their life span. But something in the unconscious may want to stay sick as a way to try to protect them. For example, if someone thinks the only way they’ll get love and attention is to be sick, they will be unwilling to give up love and attention.”1
For example research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.2
When feelings of loneliness and isolation worsen and continue long-term, people suffering from chronic loneliness can experience deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and self-loathing.3
So how does a thought or feeling translate into physical effects all over the body, you wonder? It all starts with a thought or feeling, like fear for example. A client of mine thinks she is unlovable and fears that she will be rejected because she has friends who often don't return her messages or make time to call her when they say they will.
In her case, her conscious mind senses that she’s frightened but her reptilian brain located in the limbic brain system that deals with emotions and memories does not know the difference between a perceived fear or a real life threat. Because of this detected fear, the reptilian brain then triggers the hypothalamus to activate the stress responses. When the hypothalamus is activated, the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) is switched on preparing the body to run for its life or fight. “Basically, your body ignores sleeping, digesting, and reproducing and instead focuses on running, breathing, thinking and delivering oxygen and energy in order to keep you safe.” 4
When this stress response is repeatedly activated, the body can't relax and repair what gets ill even though the body is designed to be able to self repair.
“Wherever thought goes, a chemical goes with it." Deepak Chopra
When the mind detects feelings like fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and other negative emotions, the brain releases neurotransmitters like hormones (cortisol and adrenaline that helps you run away from a physical threat) that communicates with the other parts of the body to shut down functions that promote rest and digest. Funny enough, when we experience feelings of joy, connection and love, the brain releases happy feel good hormones that promote rest, digest and healing, which are key ingredients for good physical health.
5 ways to keep loneliness from turning into depression, Psychology Today, November 10, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/u